Interview with Zhang Xinsheng, Chairman of the Executive Board"UNESCO must find answers to the critical issues of our times"
In light of the thematic debate on UN reform and the future of UNESCO, taking place this Thursday at UNESCO Headquarters, the Chairman of UNESCO's Executive Board answers several questions regarding this year's unique debate, the Board itself, and UNESCO's image in his home country of China.
Interview by Wang Wei Ying
Expertise: UNESCO leadership will be invited to speak at the debate along with experts from the world of science, education and culture, and the media. This will enable multiple points-of-view to be expressed.
Question: Mr Xinsheng Zhang, you have been Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board for one year now. Can you speak briefly about the work of the Executive Board?
Answer: The Executive Board sees to it that all of the resolutions and programmes adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference are put into place correctly by UNESCO’s Secretariat.
That means two things: challenges and rewarding results. We have excellent cooperation among our members. The members of the Executive Board seek a unified position on the important issues despite the differences on minor matters. We communicate often with one another and this excellent mutual understanding leads to great teamwork. Furthermore, I have a regular consultation meeting with the Director-General and the President of the General Conference.
I also thank the Member States for their confidence. 2005 was the sixtieth anniversary of UNESCO, and the Executive Board thus found itself at a critical juncture for UNESCO. We are leaving the past behind and clearing the path for the future.
Q: The thematic debate of the 175th session of the Executive Board will take place on 4 October. The topic will be the United Nations reform and UNESCO’s future. What do you think about this theme and what do you expect will occur?
A: First, let me say something about the origin of this debate and about its significance. Our world today is characterized by constant change. UNESCO of yesterday is certainly different than UNESCO today. As an organization of intellectual cooperation and a laboratory of ideas and norm-setting, UNESCO must find answers to the critical issues of our time within the missions and mandates of UNESCO. In the face of numerous challenges, UNESCO has reached a crucial period for the following three reasons:
First, international organizations must clearly identify their roles and functions in the face of increasing globalization and competition.
Second, the current United Nations reform will surely impact UNESCO significantly. In my opinion, this reform carries with it numerous challenges but rather great opportunities. UNESCO’s mission is to build peace through education, science, culture, communication and information, while the role of the UN is to maintain this peace. UNESCO thus has a very large responsibility on its shoulders.
Third, we are moving towards a knowledge society. UNESCO thus must better focus on its competences—culture, education, and science—which are the pillars of this knowledge. Education, for example, is the basis of development. Development is simply not possibly without reinforcing education capacities at the national level.
UNESCO must clearly identify its role and its functions within the UN system as it undergoes reform. It needs to be further proactive and better exploit its competencies as a specialized agency. This is the foundation of the thematic debate called: “In the age of globalization, UNESCO as a specialized agency of the reforming UN system : challenges, roles and functions at global, regional and country levels”
More concretely, we must establish the programmes and budget for 2008-2009 and define UNESCO’s medium-term strategy (2008-2013) so that they are in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which end in 2015.
I also hope that UNESCO can profit from this occasion to define a far-sighted medium-term strategy and elaborate realistic programme policies that lead to good results that Member States truly need, such as the Programme “Priority Africa”.
The debate will be based on certain principles:
Interactivity: The speeches will be followed by an active debate by all participants.
Wide representativeness : all of the continents will be represented at the debate.
Openness: A profound debate will be organized that evening for all the members of the Executive Board, Member States, UNESCO Communities at large, the Secretariat, and NGOs.
Q: How is UNESCO perceived in China?
A: China is cooperating closely and fruitfully with UNESCO across a wide variety of themes including Education for All, literacy, vocational education, culture (both World Heritage and Intangible Heritage) and many science programmes. Chinese people are becoming more and more familiar with UNESCO. Nonetheless, efforts need to be made to ensure that the Organization is even better known in China.
Photo : © UNESCO/Daniça Bijeljac